Telomeres are the caps at the end of each chromosome strand that protect your DNA from unraveling or fraying.
Chromosomes are thread-like structures at the end of DNA strands that contain all of your genetic information.
Generally, longer telomeres are associated with health and longevity. Extremely long telomeres, however, can make cancer cells immortal. Therefore, you want the optimal length, long enough to protect your DNA and short enough to kill cancer cells.
Keep reading to learn how to lengthen telomeres naturally and reverse aging.Extremely long telomeres can make cancer cells immortal. Therefore, you want the optimal length, long enough to protect your DNA and short enough to kill cancer cells.
How to Regrow Telomeres Naturally
- Eat Foods that lengthen telomeres
- Avoid foods that Shorten telomeres
- Boost telomerase naturally
- Reduce or manage stress
- Practice meditation
- Avoid toxins in the environment
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What Are Telomeres?
Telomeres are the caps at the end of each chromosome strand that protect your DNA from unraveling or fraying. Chromosomes are double-stranded, thread-like structures at the end of DNA strands that contain all of your genetic information.
You are constantly gaining and losing cells. Telomeres protect your chromosomes during cell division. Nevertheless, they shorten during each cell division.
Eventually, they reach a point where they can no longer protect your chromosomes, thereby leaving them vulnerable to decay. The cell either stops dividing, become senescent, or dies through apoptosis, or programmed cell death.
Because telomere shortening is associated with aging and cancer, telomeres are compared to a bomb fuse.
Theoretically, if you slow down telomere shortening you can slow down the aging process.
Telomere Function and Structure
Telomeres allow your cells to divide, which is necessary for growing new cells and staying alive, without losing any genetic information. Otherwise, your chromosome ends would fuse together and damage your cell’s genetic code, leading to breakdown, cancer, or cell death.
Your cells have the ability to recognize and repair chromosome damage. Without telomeres, your cells would try to fix what would look like damaged DNA, whether it was broken or not. This continual repair process would keep the cell from dividing. and it would ultimately die.
Telomeres are DNA sequences made of four nucleic acid bases: thymine (T), adenine (A), guanine (G), and cytosine (C). On one strand, they are repeating sequences of TTAGGG, paired with AATCCC on the other (1).
Each section of a telomere is a repeat made of six base pairs, each chromosome has about 150 million base pairs. Every time a cell divides, it loses about 30 to 200 base pairs from its telomeres.
The telomere length of white blood cells starts at about 8,000 base pairs in newborns, 3,000 base pairs in adults, then about 1,500 in the elderly. Cells generally divide about 50 to 70 times. With each cell division, however, telomeres become progressively shorter until the cell becomes senescent or dies.
Why do telomeres Shorten each time a cell divides?
Before a cell divides, it must make copies of its chromosomes for each new cell to have identical DNA (1). For replication, the two DNA strands of a chromosome must unravel and separate.
Then, an enzyme called DNA polymerase reads the original strands to replicate two new strands. The process requires adding short pieces of RNA at the end of each new strand. Consequently, each strand is a little shorter than the original because of the space needed at the end for the RNA.
What can you do to protect or even lengthen your telomeres?
1. Exercise and Telomere Length
Studies show that the more physically active you are the longer your telomeres.
One study of 5,823 adults compared leukocyte telomere length between three groups: those who are physically active, moderately active, and those who are sedentary (2). Leukocytes are an important class of immune cells. The study controlled for multiple demographics and lifestyle variables that may affect the relationship between physical activity and telomere length.
The High activity group had a biological age advantage of about 9 years compared to the Sedentary group, 8.8 to the Low activity group, and about 7.1 years to the Moderate Group.
But what about telomeres and extreme athletes?
One study found that marathon runners and triathletes in their fifties had the chromosomes and telomeres of twenty-year-olds. (3) These athletes ran about 50 miles a week for about 35 years.
If having longer telomeres can keep you from aging, then exercise is an effective anti-aging tool available to almost everyone. What effect does diet have on telomere length?
2. Foods that Lengthen Telomeres
Studies show diet is possibly more important for telomere length than exercise. What foods help telomeres?
One study of 400 women found (4) that those placed on a plant-based diet for three months had 29% longer telomeres than the control group during the same period. How does a plant-based diet protect your telomeres?
Plant-based diets are deficient in saturated fat which is associated with shorter telomeres. For example, replacing just one percent of your calories from saturated fat with anything else can add a whole year’s worth of aging to the length of your telomeres. Why is saturated fat so harmful?
Palmitic acid, the main saturated fat found in meat, fish, eggs, and dairy, can be toxic to human cells. But Is saturated fat the only way that consuming animal products can shorten telomeres?
3. What Foods Shorten Telomeres?
Eating animal products also shorten telomeres through increased oxidative stress, inflammation, and cholesterol. Learn more about oxidative stress and inflammation in the article What Are Free Radicals and How Can We Fight Them?.
What are the worst foods for your telomeres?
Processed meat and fish are possibly the worst foods for telomeres and speeding up the aging process. Eating fish has shown to age a person’s DNA 6 years and processed meat ages you 14 years (5). Your DNA is your genetic blueprint. If your DNA ages faster, that means that your cells more quickly. When your cells age they can only copy what they are, older and less vibrant cells.Your DNA is your genetic blueprint. If your DNA ages faster, that means that your cells age faster. When your cells age they can only copy what they are, older and less vibrant cells.
Fish are known for being rich in Omega-3 fats, but there are vegan alternatives. Ground flax seeds and chia seeds are excellent sources of short-chain (ALA) omega-3s.
Algae oil is the safest and most effective source of long-chain (DHA and EPA) omega-3s. Interestingly, fish get their omega-3s from algae. But even wild fish have toxic heavy metals and fats that promote inflammation and shorten telomeres.
I use Vegan Omega 3 Supplement – Marine Algal Source of EPA & DHA Fatty Acids from Zenwise (click here to check the current pricing on Amazon) every day. It is the best deal I’ve found so far for vegan DHA and EPA
4. Increase Telomerase and Telomeres Naturally
You have an enzyme called telomerase that builds and maintains your telomeres by adding bases to their ends (1). As cells divide, however, telomerase is depleted causing telomeres to shorten as you age.
Telomerase stays active in reproductive cells to protect their telomeres and ensure that the species doesn’t go extinct.
How can you increase and promote your telomerase activity?
A study funded by the U.S. Department of Defense found that 3 months of a whole foods plant-based diet, along with exercise and stress management, can significantly boost (6) telomerase activity.
Learn more about how to boost telomerase activity in this video.
Be cautious: drugs and telomere supplements are being marketed with claims of being able to increase telomerase activity. Remember that synthetic drugs and supplements are unnatural and useless at best in the human body. First and foremost you should explore natural ways to boost telomerase activity.
Discuss any health concerns, drugs or supplements with your doctor.
5. Stress and Telomeres
Stress shortens telomeres and speeds up the aging process as few things can. For example, mothers caring for an ill child experience significant stress.
One study compared the telomere lengths of mothers of chronically ill children to those of mothers of healthy children. Looking at telomere length, the high stressed mothers aged (7) about ten years faster than the low-stress mothers. The same effect was found in those suffering (8) from severe work exhaustion.
Even perceived stress can shorten your telomeres. Both psychological stress and perceived stress are associated with higher oxidative stress, lower telomerase, and shorter telomeres.
In one study, women with the highest levels of perceived stress had (9) telomeres shorter than the average by about at least a decade of aging compared to women with low-stress.
Even traumatic events in childhood can have (10) a lasting effect on telomeres and cell aging into adulthood. “Childhood events may embed epigenetically” say researchers from one study, “and alter gene expression almost permanently.” Conversely, the traumatic events that occur during adulthood most often don’t have a lasting effect.
Can you grow back your telomeres by managing stress?
6. Lengthening Telomeres With Meditation
How you perceive stress is the key, and meditation can help you feel more in control of your thoughts and emotions. Meditation helps you momentarily remove yourself from your situation and become self-aware.
You can evaluate your thoughts and beliefs and let go of what’s not working for you. Practicing meditation can reduce stress and thereby help protect your telomeres.
Caregivers with family members who have dementia who meditated for 12 minutes a day for eight weeks had (11) a substantial increase in telomerase activity.
They also experienced the benefits of reduced stress such as improved mental and physiological function. Stress is the cause of most health problems, including telomere shortening. Therefore, practicing meditation can benefit everyone.
Schedule some time to relax your mind and focus on your breathing. Start with a few minutes and work your way up to a length that helps calm your mind and improve your sense of wellbeing.
Learn a quick meditation from Deepak Chopra.
7. What Other Factors Can Shorten Telomeres?
- Smoking can shorten telomeres faster.
- Getting consistently poor sleep is a chronic stressor
- Air pollution can shorten the telomeres of newborns (12)
- Toxins in the environment
- Women who have given childbirth have shorter telomeres than those who haven’t (13)
Which Diseases Are Related to Telomeres?
People with shorter than average telomeres compared to their age group have a higher risk for chronic disease or early death. Paradoxically, people with extremely long telomeres are at greater risk of cancer. Extremely long telomeres can protect cancer cells making them immortal.People with shorter than average telomeres compared to their age group have a higher risk for chronic disease or early death. Paradoxically, people with extremely long telomeres are at greater risk of cancer.
Diseases related to short telomeres
- People who are suffering from cardiomyopathy, a form of heart disease, have (14) abnormally short in their heart muscle cells.
- Muscular dystrophy, when stem cells in the muscle are unable to regenerate new muscle, is (15) due to shortened telomeres
- Type 2 diabetes is associated with DNA damage which is hypothesized (16) to be the result of telomere shortening.
- Osteoporosis is (17) associated with shorter telomeres.
- Measuring telomere length can help (18) with treatment decisions for patients with certain types of bone marrow dysfunction.
- In a study of 143 individuals over 60, those with shorter telomeres were three times more likely to die (19) from heart disease.
- Researches have found (20) that “telomeres are at the origin of pulmonary fibrosis. This is the first time that telomere damage has been identified as a cause of the disease.”
Diseases related to extremely long telomeres
- Abnormally active telomerase can protect (21) melanoma thereby making it difficult to treat.
- Telomeres are (22) a possible “survival advantage survival advantage for cancer cells, allowing multiple cell divisions leading to high cancer mortality.”
- Longer than usual telomeres are (23) associated with increased cancer risk,
Can You Grow Back Telomeres?
Telomeres can regenerate and grow back naturally. Recently, researches have discovered that an RNA molecule called TERRA helps (24) to ensure that extremely short (or damaged) telomeres are repaired.
At the site of long telomeres, TERRA is quickly removed by the proteins Rat1 and RNase H2. But these proteins are absent at short telomeres. Thereby, this mechanism allows TERRA to repair shortened telomeres so that cell can survive and keep dividing.
Limits to the Telomere Theory of Aging
- It appears that long telomeres are just as harmful as short telomeres. As we’ve discussed, long telomeres can protect and promote cancer cells. Overactive telomerase can make cells immortal.
- The problem is that long and damaged telomeres have proteins that remove TERRA, which is necessary for repairing damaged telomeres.
- Apoptosis is a necessary process to eliminate harmful or damaged cells. Long telomeres can prevent apoptosis, meaning more and more cells grow old.
Conclusion: Can Telomeres Grow Back?
- I’m not so sure we want extremely long telomeres which can make cancer cells immortal. Maybe we want the Goldilocks length, just right for optimal health.
- Instead of focusing on our telomeres, we should focus on providing the right environment for the body to thrive.
- The body is intelligent and can heal itself. I believe that if the body has what it needs for optimal health then it will rebuild telomeres when necessary.
- The body’s primary goal is survival. A toxic, stressful, or deficient environment causes the body to express genes for survival at the expense of optimal function. Possibly the body is overcompensating to protect our cells by providing more telomerase for our telomeres.
- Even if telomeres are just a biomarker of aging, a toxic environment is bad for overall health.
- If we give the body what it needs our genetic expression will be for thriving instead of just surviving.
- Instead of focusing on how to lengthen telomeres we should focus on a healthy lifestyle in all aspects of our lives.
'I'm not so sure we want extremely long telomeres which can make cancer cells immortal. Maybe we want the Goldilocks length, just right for optimal health.' #telomeres #longevity'
My Favorite Resources For Health and Longevity
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